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Brief Timeline of American Literature and Events

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Literature, Music, and Movies
1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s
Political and Social History
1750-1754 1750 (22 June) Jonathan Edwards is dismissed from his Northampton (Mass.) church when he rejects the liberal "halfway covenant." He becomes pastor of a church in the frontier settlement of Stockbridge, in western Massachusetts. 
1754-63 French and Indian War (See history).
1754 Colonies adopt Benjamin Franklin's "Plan of the Union" of English colonies.
1751. Benjamin Franklin publishes New Experiments and Observations on Electricity.Benjamin Franklin
1755-1759 1758 General Montcalm and his French troops are defeated at Fort Ticonderoga, New York.
1758 Jonathan Edwards becomes president of the College of New Jersey, later Princeton University.
1759 Quebec surrenders to the British under Wolfe. 
1758 Benjamin Franklin, "The Way to Wealth"
1760-1764 Benjamin West (self-portrait)1760 Pennsylvania-born painter Benjamin West travels to Italy to study art and becomes a celebrated artist in London.
Benjamin West's Self Portrait (1770) courtesy of Carol L. Gerten (Jackson)'s site at the University of North Carolina.

1763 10 February. Treaty of Paris ends the Seven Years War (French and Indian War). France cedes Acadia (Nova Scotia), the St. Lawrence River islands, and Canada to the British. 
  • May-November. When  the British refuse to supply less expensive trade goods and ammunition, the Ottawas under Chief Pontiac destroy western British garrisons, among them Fort Duquesne.  After beseiging the garrison at Detroit for five months, Pontiac withdraws. 
  • Patrick Henry presents the theory of a mutual compact between the governed and the ruler.
  • 1764 Boston lawyer James Otis publishes The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved.
    1760  Ezra Stiles, A Discourse on the Christian Union
    1764 James Grainger, The Sugar-Cane, A Poem in Three Books
    1765-1769 1765 Stamp Act is enacted by English Parliament and meets with colonial opposition.
    1766-67 Daniel Boone travels to the Kentucky territory through the Cumberland Gap.
    1769. Fr. Junipero Serra founds the Mission at San Diego and eight others, hastening the colonization of California.(Another biographical sketch.)
    1765-6 William Bartram travels in Florida with his father, John Bartram. 
    1765 James Otis, A Vindication of the British Colonies
    1768 Samson Occom, A Short Narrative of My Life
    1768 John Dickinson, Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania
    1768 Milcah Martha Moore, "The Female Patriots. Address'd to the Daughters of Liberty in America, 1768"
    1770-1774 1770. 5 March. When British troops arrive in Boston, they are surrounded by angry colonists and fire into the crowd, killing three Americans and wounding two others. The event becomes known as the Boston Massacre. (Image courtesy of  Images of Political History. See also the Map of the Americas showing European powers [1774] [262 k. file])
    1773 May 10. Due to pressure from the East India Company, which has suffered because of the colonists' successful embargo on tea, the Tea Act becomes effective.  It retains the threepenny tax on tea but repeals the previous export tax, so that British tea merchants can now undercut the prices of American sellers. 
  • 29-30 November. After colonists decide to send the Dartmouth  with her cargo of tea back to England, Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson declares that the ship must stay in Boston Harbor  until the tea taxes are paid.
  • December 16. Boston Tea Party.  Samuel Adams addresses a crowd of 8,000 colonists gathered in the Old South Church, telling them of  Governor Hutchinson's decision. That night, colonists disguised as Mohawk Indians dump 342 casks of tea into Boston Harbor.
  • 1774. All colonies except Georgia send representatives to the First Continental Congress.
  • 1770 Robert Munford's satirical play, The Candidates; or, The Humours of A Virginia Election
    1771-90 Franklin continues writing the Autobiography (Part I published in 1818) 
    1773 Phillis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects
    1774 John Woolman, The Journal of John Woolman
    1773-1776 William Bartram travels throughout the Southeast, a journey that he later chronicles in his Travels
  • 1775 March 23. In a speech to the Virginia legislature, Patrick Henry encourages Virginians to arm themselves, saying "give me liberty or give me death."
    • April 18-19. Paul Revere's midnight ride. 19 April: Battles of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, first battles of the Revolutionary War.
    • 10 May. Second Continental Congress convenes in Philadelphia, with John Hancock as its president.
    • 15 June. George Washington is named commander-in-chief of the Continental army. (Go to the George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress for letters, images, and other materials.)
    • 17 June. British victory at Battle of Bunker Hill.


  • July 4. Second Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence.
  • 27 August. The colonial army suffers a serious defeat at the Battle of Long Island.
  • 16 September. Having already decided to remove the army from New York City, Washington repels the British forces of General Howe in the Battle of Harlem Heights.
  • 21 September. Fire spreads over New York, destroying from 300-1,000 buildings. Early in the morning of this day, Nathan Hale is captured by the British and executed as a spy the next day, September 22. According to an 1848 memoir by a friend, his last word were these: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."
  • 9 October. Mission of San Francisco de Asis is founded; it later becomes the city of San Francisco.
  • 1 November. Mission San Juan Capistrano founded in what is now California. (See maps of settlement and other events at the University of Texas libraries site.)
    1775-83 Revolutionary War (see timelines for battles and events)
  • 1775 Mercy Otis Warren, The Group
    1776 Thomas Paine, Common Sense
    1780-1784 1780
  • 12 May. After 40 days of siege, General Benjamin Lincoln surrenders Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina, to the British forces commanded by General Henry Lincoln.
  • 2 October. After being captured with Benedict Arnold's plans for the surrender of West Point, the headquarters of the Continental army, British spy Major John Andre is hanged. Having escaped on 25 September after hearing of Andre's capture, Arnold later becomes a brigadier general in the British army.
  • 17 January. At the battle of Cowpens, South Carolina, General Daniel Morgan defeats the British forces of Colonel Banastre Tarleton, an important victory for the Americans.
  • 10 June. Reinforced by troops under General Anthony Wayne, American forces under the Marquis de Lafayette help to fend off raids by Benedict Arnold and Cornwallis in Virginia.
  • 6 September. Benedict Arnold and his troops attack and destroy parts of New London, Connecticut.
  • 28 September. After French Admiral de Grasse defeats the British fleet under Admiral Thomas Graves and gains control of Chesapeake Bay, the siege of Yorktown begins as 9,000 American and 7,000 French troops under General George Washington and Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, converge on the city. General Cornwallis signs the surrender papers on October 19, thus ending the last major battle of the Revolutionary War.
    1783-5 Noah Webster's "Blue-Backed Speller" (A Grammatical Institute of the English Language) helps to standardize spelling and to distinguish British from American English. 

  • 1782 J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer
    1783 Franklin's Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America
    1785-1789 1785. March. Thomas Jefferson is appointed minister to France, replacing Benjamin Franklin. 
  • 28 November.  In the Treaty of Hopewell, the Cherokees' right to land in the Tennessee area is reinstated, nullifying an earlier treaty.
  • 1786 Congress adopts a decimal coinage system based on the Spanish milled dollar. 
    1787 Shays's Rebellion in western Massachusetts. Farmers facing foreclosure deny judges entrance to the courthouses where bankruptcy proceedings are heard.  In a confrontation at Springfield, four farmers are killed as 1,000 militiamen fend off approximately 1,500 farmers.
    1787. 25 May.  The Federal Convention convenes in Philadelphia, although only seven states are represented.  Several provisions of James Madison's Virginia Plan become part of the U. S. Constitution, including  a bicameral legislature, a federal judiciary branch, and an executive branch. The Constitution is approved on 17 September and then is sent to the states for ratification. 
    1789 George Washington elected president.
    1786 Philip Freneau, Poems
    1787 Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia
  • Abraham Panther, A Surprising Account of the Discovery of a Lady . . . ("Panther Captivity" narrative

  • October 1787-May 1788. The Federalist Papers appear in New York newspapers under the pseudonym Publius. The letters are written by James Madison (1731-1836), Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), and John Jay (1745-1829). 
    1789 Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano
    1790-1794 1790 First American cotton mill. 
    1791 Washington, D. C. established as U. S. capital.
  • First Bank of the United States is founded under Alexander Hamilton and is granted a 20-year charter. Its charter is not renewed in 1811. 

  • 1794 Whiskey Rebellion breaks out in western Pennsylvania among farmers who oppose the collection of the tax on liquor and stills. 
    1794 Jay's Treaty provides for withdrawal of British forces from the Northwest Territory by 1 June 1796 in exchange for payments of war debts to British citizens. It is ratified on 24 June 1795.
    1790 Judith Sargent Murray, "On the Equality of the Sexes"
    1791 Susannah Rowson, Charlotte: A Tale of Truth
    1792 Bunker Gay, A Genuine and Correct Account of the Captivity, Sufferings, and Deliverance of Mrs. Jemima Howe (captivity narrative
    1793 Elihu Hubbard Smith publishes anthology American Poems, Selected and Original. It includes several poems by the Connecticut Wits: Joel Barlow, Timothy Dwight, Lemuel Hopkins, and John Trumbull 
    1793 John Woolman, A Word of Remembrance and Caution to the Rich (calls for social reforms, including the abolition of slavery)
    1793 The Hapless Orphan; or, Innocent Victim of Revenge by "an American Lady"
    1794 Timothy Dwight (1752-1817), Greenfield Hill
    1795-1799 1795. 3 August.  In the Treaty of Greenville, twelve Ohio tribes turn over lands to General Anthony Wayne after their defeat in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794.
    1796. 1 June. Tennessee is admitted to the Union as a slave-holding state.
    17 September.  Washington publishes his Farewell Address; it states his reasons for returning to private life and deciding not to run for a third term as president. 
    7 December. John Adams (Federalist party) wins the presidency and Thomas Jefferson (Democrat-Republican) becomes vice president in the nation's third presidential election.
    1797. A cast-iron plow is invented, but farmers fear it will poison the soil and refuse to use it.
    18 October.  Amid tensions between the US and France, French foreign minister Tallyrand's agents suggest a "loan," essentially a bribe, to bring the French to the bargaining table.  Charles C. Pinckney, the American minister to France, refuses, saying, "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute."
    The USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides") is launched as part of the new US navy. 
    1798. The passing of several Alien and Sedition Acts draws fire when Benjamin Franklin Bache, the grandson of Benjamin Franklin, is arrested for  libeling President Adams.  Thomas Jefferson later pardons all those convicted under the Sedition Act, many of whom were Democrat-Republicans.
    Congress abolishes debtors' prisons.
    1799. George Washington dies at Mount Vernon. 
    1798 Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland; or, the Transformation (September) and Alcuin, a Dialogue (April)
    1799 Charles Brockden Brown, Arthur  Mervyn; or, Memoirs of the Year 1793 (May) and Ormond; or, the Secret Witness (February)
    For a more comprehensive chronology of historical events in this period, visit these sites.

    Comments to D. Campbell.